New rock art shows the Sahara was radically different 4,000 years ago

— © Cooper et al. / The Journal of Egyptian Archeology 2024

A series of prehistoric works discovered on the walls of caves in the Nubian Desert, in northeastern Sudan, illustrate the radical changes experienced by this part of the Sahara, passing from a green land to an arid and desolate landscape in over the space of a few millennia.

Green Sahara

Published in the Journal of Egyptian Archeology, this work focused on 16 prehistoric sites in the region of Wadi Halfa, a Sudanese town close to the Egyptian border. Besides the performances caves humans, antelopes, elephants and giraffes, researchers have noted the recurring presence of cattle, which may seem surprising, given the climate of the Nubian Desert.

According to the researchers, the region currently receives only a very small amount of annual precipitation, making this type of livestock farming, which was probably at the heart of the daily lives of the region’s populations around 3,000 BCE, today impossible.

The discovery of cattle on these rock faces initially perplexed us, as they require a lot of water and hectares of grazing, and would not survive in the dry, arid environment of today’s Sahara. », underlines Julien Cooper, who supervises the project. “ The presence of cattle in ancient rock art is one of the most striking evidence of the existence of a green Sahara. »

— © Bertramz / Wikimedia Commons

Radical changes

Between 15,000 and 5,000 years ago, the entire African continent experienced a significant increase in summer monsoon rains, linked to periodic variations in the Earth’s orbit around the Sun. Thanks to these torrential precipitations, this part of the globe has been transformed into a land rich in pastures, dotted with numerous lakes.

When the wet period ended, the environments of the Wadi Halfa region experienced drastic and rapid changes.

It has almost completely depopulated. For those who remained, large livestock were abandoned in favor of sheep and goats “, explains Cooper. “ This must have had significant repercussions on all aspects of human life, from diet, to milk supplies, to the migratory patterns of groups of herders.. »

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